GIFTS OF THE PERAMANGK
In 1950s Australia, during the height of the divisive White Australia Policy, Virginia, a young Aboriginal girl is taken from her home and family and put to work on an isolated, outback station, in the cruelest of conditions.
Her only solace: the violin, taught to her in secret by a kind-hearted white woman – the wife of the abusive station owner. However, Virginia’s prodigious musical gift cannot save her from years of hardship, abuse, and racism.
Decades later, her eight year old granddaughter, Ruby, plays the violin with a passion Virginia once possessed. Amidst abject poverty, domestic violence and social dysfunction, Ruby escapes her circumstance through her practice, with her grandmother’s frail, guiding hand. Ruby’s zeal attracts the attention of an enigmatic music professor, and with his help, Ruby embarks on an incredible journey of musical discovery that will culminate in a once in a life time chance for a brighter future.
But with two cultural worlds colliding, her gift and her ambition will be threatened by deeply ingrained distrust, family jealousies and tragic secrets that will define her very identity.
Dean Mayes hails from Victoria, Australia, although these days he lives in Adelaide, with his partner and family.
Dean grew up with an early love of words – a trait a little out of step for most children of his age and has been writing and creating for most of his life…or at least for as long as he could wield a pen and knew how to use it. His creative streak was inspired by his third grade teacher, Mrs. Furnell, who challenged him in his creative writing exercises which he initially “sucked at”. After producing a surprisingly poignant piece about a soldier’s experience of war (based on his grandfather’s experiences), Dean received his first writing award – a Purple Dragon sticker.
The genesis for what became his first published novel came in 2008, when Dean started an internet blog and decided to craft a story ‘on the fly’, with no bells or whistles and put it up in instalments each week. He would announce a new edition on Facebook and Twitter and let anybody who wanted to, read it. Dean suddenly found himself with a dedicated readership, a following who, hooked on the story, would ‘tune in’ each week to read the next instalment and encourage Dean to keep writing more. One particular message, was to signal the turning point in Dean’s writing career. It invited him to have a look at Central Avenue Publishing of Vancouver. After talking with C.A.P’s creative director Michelle Halket, Dean became very serious about his project. He stopped publishing the story to the blog and began constructing the manuscript, stealing time whenever he could to work on the story. Within a few months the manuscript, now renamed, The Hambledown Dream, was completed, submitted and accepted for publication.
Since its publication, The Hambledown Dream has received critical acclaim from across the globe and has fired Dean’s creative spark to continue writing, thus bringing us up to date, with the publication of his second novel, Gifts Of The Peramangk which, in October 2013, was nominated as a finalist in the prestigious EPIC Awards for contemporary fiction and has been described as a work of significant literary achievement.
WORDS FROM THE BOOK
“Though she was too young to comprehend the full gravity of what had just happened, Virginia Crammond knew in the depths of her soul that she would never see her mother again”
“No one is beyond suitability for learning, my child – no matter who you are or where you come from. If you have the desire to learn – a fire in your belly that drives you – then … you can prevail in your search”
“Because, in that moment, here in their little sanctuary, they were all together, bound by something greater than anything that sought to tear them apart. Their love for one another”
“You are from the Peramangk – that is your country. Don’t let anyone take that away from you. They are a proud people. Remember!”
“That which you seek may well be closer than you think”
“You can’t fix us, don’t you understand? You never could”
Having read Dean Mayes debut novel The Hambledown Dream, I couldn’t imagine just how that could be improved in any future storyline – Just how wrong could I have been!
Gifts Of the Peramangk really did leave me speechless and emotionally broken, with its eloquent language, intricately drawn characters, detailed descriptions, and its heart-wrenching and tragic, yet strangely uplifting storyline. Dean definitely took his storytelling to an entirely new level, illustrating how consummately skilled and at ease he is in crossing the genres with his writing.
We have a community which appeared to have embraced the cultural blending of its white Australians, with the indigenous Aboriginal native population, being torn asunder by a system which was ostensibly there to protect the Aborigines, but which in reality, was little short of being the instigator of practices which could only have been perceived as barbaric, if they had ever dared to have been acknowledged by an outside world, which must undoubtedly have known of their existence!
Virginia’s experiences at the hands of the system, separated her from her loving and devoted, mixed-race family, which even at so young an age, didn’t take her long to realise, meant that she would probably never see them again. It placed her instead, into a place of great danger and in the midst of a situation which demanded every ounce of courage her young body and mind could muster, simply to survive. Just one kind person, who offered wise words, small deeds of encouragement and a precious gift, helped Virginia to keep some small modicum of faith in humanity and stayed with her for the rest of her life, even as she was cruelly punished for her part in these liaisons and was cast aside to fend for herself, as her perceived usefulness had been deemed to have ended.
Despite the multitude of knock-backs she has received along every step of the way Virgina’s will and sheer determination to survive has won through and when we next catch up with her she is an octogenarian, with a family of her own. She realises only too well however, that her own bitter experiences have no doubt shaped her life and that as a mother, she has largely failed in her mission to protect and guide her children into a better life than she had ever had. Maybe she had simply been too badly damaged, left insecure and way too immature to take control of their destiny and future together, leaving the family torn apart and destroyed. Her son hates her and almost any other person he perceives to be in authority, with an emotion which is raw and almost feral, not helped by the fact that they have been subjected as a family to being confined to a neighbourhood where racial tensions still run high, thus fanning the flames of his mistrust of a system which he feels has cruelly failed them all, which he uses as his justification for the criminal, knife-edge existence he leads and the abuse which he considers it his right to administer on his own family.
Virginia’s single-minded resolve and determination to forge a better future for her grand-daughter Ruby, when fate has so cruelly robbed her of a mother, is dealt with in a truly thought provoking and emotional way by Dean, as Virginia is so clearly consumed with guilt about her daughters tragic death, also as a result of her upbringing. She has two gifts for Ruby, the one an innate strength of character to do the right thing and do it positively, the other a physical symbol of the lasting pride of a nation, a violin
Ruby’s musical talent becomes the single unifying element for a family, so far down the road of self destruction and self loathing, that the healing process will be long and tortuous, but upon which the seeds of a new beginning will be planted. The music takes on a character all its own, such is its importance to the very future of each and every member of the family. Only thanks to the kindness of strangers, who also have to make personal sacrifices and take a firm stand against the racism and prejudice of those in authority, in order to give Ruby a chance to not only follow her own dream, but to begin the reconciliation process for those dearest to her.
For anyone who has read The Hambledown Dream, the moment where that storyline gently merged with this, will have been noted for its sympathetic blending, and sensitive handling. The moment of recognition for the reader, is fleeting and crafted with great skill, so for those of you who have not read Dean’s debut novel, you would not notice anything untoward in Gifts Of The Peramangk, that would distract you from being mesmerised by this stand-alone, unique, emotional and totally absorbing storyline. Dean certainly has a rare talent for the subtle blending of two stories, which can only be described as truly inspired.
There are many layers to this intriguing, atmospheric, wonderfully textured and immersive, dual-timeline storyline, with some unexpectedly intense and highly emotional twists only adding to the deeply insightful, evocative, and utterly unforgettable relationship between Virginia and Ruby. A poignant, achingly beautiful, fluently written and uplifting story, which crosses the generational divide.
The characters are well developed, complex and authentic to their place in time, although that did not always make them easy to relate to, or invest in. Circumstances meant that everyone was searching for a sense of belonging and closure, on what had been a tumultuous period in all their lives, which made them compelling and emotionally vulnerable, frail yet with an amazing inner strength and the tenacity to rebuild their shattered hopes and dreams. Dean paints a vivid picture of the proud, dignified and stoic woman Virginia has become in later life, as she has learned to take control of her life and her position in society, through the eyes and actions of her granddaughter, Ruby.
Whilst physical location in itself didn’t play a huge part in the overall storyline, the brutal, yet poignantly described societal and historical mores of the time, really evoked a sense of time and place unlike few I have experienced before in my many reading journeys.
Coming as I do, from the UK, where we had our own horrific policy of enforced ‘Child Migration’, this story rang out loud and clear, as a sad and poignant reminder of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’. Yet at the same time, through the determination, tenacity and passion of one elderly lady and a small child, Gifts Of The Peramangk was also an inspirational and uplifting testament to man’s determination, resilience and ability to rise up against the odds and achieve their full potential. Definitely a story to be slowly savoured and enjoyed, coming as it does from an author who is as fluent with his pen and words, as Ruby is with her violin and music, making his own beautiful music of language.
What always makes reading such a wonderful experience for me, is that with each and every new book, I am taken on a unique and individual journey, by authors who fire my imagination, stir my emotions and stimulate my senses. This was another of those “one of a kind” stories, which had the power to evoke so many feelings, that I’m sure I won’t have felt the same way about it as the last reader, nor the next, so I can only recommend that you read Gifts Of The Peramangk for yourself and see where your journey leads you!
A complimentary Kindle download of the book was provided for review by its author, Dean Mayes.
This in no way influenced any comments I may have expressed about the book, in any blog article I have posted. Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a 5 out of 5.